Researchers in Europe working to stop false rumours on the internet

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 February, 2014, 9:54pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 February, 2014, 9:54pm


University researchers in Europe are working on a system that could quash false rumours spreading on social media by identifying whether the information is accurate.

Five universities, led by Sheffield in northern England, are co-operating on a system that could automatically identify whether a rumour originates from a reliable source and can be verified.

The researchers said on Tuesday they hoped the system would allow governments, emergency services, media and the private sector to respond more effectively to claims emerging and spreading on social media before they got out of hand.

The three-year, European Union-funded project, called Pheme, is an attempt to filter out the nuggets of factual information from the avalanche of ill-informed comment on Twitter and Facebook.

"Social networks are rife with lies and deception," the project leaders said in a statement. Such messages can have far-reaching consequences, but there is so much of it that it is impossible to analyse it in real time.

Claims during the 2011 riots in London that the London Eye observation wheel was on fire or that all the animals were let out of London Zoo were given as examples of false rumours that spread rapidly via the internet.

"The problem is that it all happens so fast and we can't quickly sort truth from lies," Dr Kalina Bontcheva of Sheffield University's Faculty of Engineering, who is leading the research, said.

"This makes it difficult to respond to rumours, for example, for the emergency services to quash a lie in order to keep a situation calm. Our system aims to help with that, by tracking and verifying information in real time."

The project is trying to identify four types of information - speculation, controversy, misinformation, and disinformation - and model their spread on social networks.

It will try to use three factors to establish veracity: the information itself, cross-referencing with trustworthy data sources and the information's diffusion.

The results can be displayed to the user on screen.

"It's currently not possible to automatically analyse, in real time, whether a piece of information is true or false and this is what we've now set out to achieve," Bontcheva said.

TheTimes newspaper said the EU would meet most of the predicted €4.3 million (HK$45.86 million) costs of the project.